The Fifth Head of Cerberus
Gene Wolfe
Review by Paul Melko

Set on the twin planets Sainte Croix and Sainte Anne, this novel explores the relationship between man and alien. The novel is divided into three novellas, linked together by a single character, John Marsh, Terran anthropologist, searching Sainte Anne for signs of the original aboriginal culture. Spoilers abound ahead.

The first story centers on a child-clone, written from his point of view, as he grows under the tutelage of his robot-nanny, Mr. Millions. We come to learn that the boy is a clone of his father, who runs a first-class brothel. But the boy is more than a clone; he is the father's tool of self-examination and experimentation. Through the clones of himself, of which there have been many, the father is trying to perfect himself and to investigate his psyche.

The next story is a story from the point of view of a young native on Sainte Anne, living there as an aboriginal before the human settlers come. Sandwalker searches for his family who were kidnapped by the swamp-dwellers. Along the way, he befriends the shadow-children, ghostly killers and singers of songs. Also, he finds his long-lost twin brother who is a priest among the swamp-dwellers.

The final section is from the point of view of the Sainte Croix case officer assigned to John Marsh's case after his arrival from Sainte Anne. Held on charges of murder and spying, Marsh is jailed, awaiting death or release. The officer pages through the accounts of Marsh's journeys on Sainte Anne, his search for aborigines, and the odd truths he discovers.

I had heard much positive comment regarding this book and was taken aback by its obtuse and bewildering style. I struggled with it after the first story and found I had little interest in this bizarre culture that Wolfe has created. It is obvious that he has crafted this book to have some Meaning concerning individual identity. Unfortunately, I am too dull to see the subtle and grand point he is trying to make.

This is disappointing, as I admired his Book of the New Sun.

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